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Volta is building a free electric car fast-charging network. No, really

What if you could top off your gas tank without paying? That probably won’t happen, but electric car drivers can now access a free network of charging stations. Free charging isn’t a new thing, but Volta claims to have the first network that offers free DC fast charging at all locations.

Volta already operates a network of slower Level 2 AC stations. Charging at rates of 50 kilowatts to 100 kW, the new DC fast-charging stations will be able to add up to 350 miles of range per hour, according to Volta. However, drivers only get a half hour of free charging, and will have to pay for any charging time over that. That may not be too much of an issue in the real world, as fast-charging sessions generally don’t last very long. The 30-minute limit may even act as incentive for drivers not to hog DC fast charging stations, which are not as common as Level 2 AC stations.

Volta plans to install the first 150 stations nationwide over the next 12 months. Stations will be located at “busy retail locations,” according to a press release from Volta, which will also sell advertising space on the stations. Income from advertisers and property owners lets Volta offer charging for free. The properties that host charging stations will have a captive audience of drivers, who will have the option to shop or eat while their cars charge. Generating foot traffic has already led many businesses, such as stores and restaurants, to install free charging stations. Volta claims to be the first to make an entire network of stations free, however.

Station locations are determined using “data-driven models that forecast changing trends,” according to Volta. The company claims this allows it to place stations where they are most likely to be used, making things more convenient for drivers in the process. Volta claims to have the highest utilization rate of any public charging network.

The first free Volta DC fast charging station will open in Norwalk, Connecticut, later this month. Subsequent expansion will focus on the San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington, D.C., metropolitan areas, according to Volta. The company is one of several building public charging stations to gradually create more comprehensive coverage for electric car drivers.

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